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She Opened the Government to Everyone

The former Governor of Texas, Ann Richards, said, “I did not want my tombstone to read, ‘she kept a really clean house.’ I think I would like them to remember me by saying, ‘she opened the government to everyone.’ At the age of seventy-three Ann Richards passed away, and it can be said of her that she opened the government to everyone. Ann Richards was the first women in half a century to serve as governor in Texas. While she was Governor she appointed more women and minorities than any other previous Governor. Under Richards the Texas Rangers got their first black and female officers. She appointed a teacher to lead the State board of Education. She appointed a disabled person to the Human Services Board. She appointed the first crime victim to the Criminal Justice Board. She said of women, “if you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”

Ann Richards was born Dorothy Ann Willis, in Lakeview, Texas, on September 1, 1933. She grew up and in the Waco area, graduating from Waco High School in 1950. After graduation she attended Baylor University, where she met her future husband, David Richardson, who went on to become a noted civil rights attorney. After College she attended the University of Texas, earning a teaching certificate. She taught for several years at Fulmore Middle School. She said that being a public school teacher was the hardest job she ever had. She served on the Travis County Commissioners court for four years before being elected to the state treasurer in 1982. She was the first woman elected in a statewide election in nearly fifty years.

Politics took a toll on her life. Her marriage ended in divorce and she ended up in Rehab for treatment of alcoholism. She did not let this hold her back. In 1990 she enter an intense campaign for the governorship of Texas and won. As Governor, she made institutional changes to the penal system, improved the states economy and image, and instituted Texas’s first state lottery, buying the first ticket herself. When asked what she would have done differently if she had known she would be a one term governor she said, “Oh, I would probably have raised more hell.”

After leaving political office she served on the boards of J.C Penney, Brandeis University, and the Aspen Institute. She gave the keynote address at the Democratic Convention in 1988 and served as chairwoman of the Democratic Convention the year Bill Clinton was nominated for President. At the age of sixty she got her motorcycle license. She has spent the last ten years working on a number of social issues and developing the Ann Richards School for Young Woman Leaders, which is scheduled to open in Austin in 2007. She lost her battle with Cancer on September 13, 2006, and is survived by her four children, Cecile Richards, Daniel Richards, Clark Richards and Ellen Richards, their spouses, and eight grandchildren.

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